Last week, we said college kids shouldn't be voting. A few readers didn't like that and the comments weren't flattering. So we decided to follow it up with a similar article saying the exact same thing. (No, I'm not good at poker. Why do you ask?)
In making a case for college kids not being allowed to vote, the article failed to mention there are a lot of people that shouldn't be allowed to vote - many of which have nothing to do with college. In fact, you probably know several people older than 90 that should be watched every minute of the day, never mind going near a voting booth.
The problem with the typical knee-jerk reaction to this sort of discussion is that The Vote is such a magnificent thing in American society that it -- as a wholly-sealed concept -- now outshines its purpose. Its value as a trophy is worth more than its value as a civic tool.
Thomas Jefferson famously said:
"We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate."
On its face, this statement sounds benign, but there's a deep profundity here that has been lost by the modern "Get Out The Vote" crowd.
Democrats figured out a long time ago that votes are all worth the same thing. If you can get a drunk to roll out of the gutter for a few minutes and cast a vote, that is worth just as much as the vote of a millionaire banker on Wall Street. And if you can get the same people to vote multiple times, that's good too.
It doesn't matter that the millionaire created more jobs than the drunk, nor that he pays for more ambulance rides and library books. In fact, it doesn't matter how much skin you have in the game at all. As long as you are older than 18, not a felon and can communicate in some meaningful way, that's all it takes. Your vote has value.
Mostly, that's a good thing. If votes were proportional in value to how much money we made or status we held, America would be an aristocracy. The rich would vote each other into office and there would be no such thing as justice for crime or anti-trust laws.
The problem is that we have no minimum standard. As we discussed in the previous article, 18 year old kids have no "issues" for candidates to address regardless of how much they claim to. Ergo, their vote -- currently as valuable as yours and mine -- should be denied. Readers insisted that college students do have issues by mentioning things they will face in the future, but that same logic applies to newborns and toddlers and we don't let them vote (the unborn have particularly pressing political concerns, to no avail).
Why don't we let newborns, toddlers or pre-teens vote? Because they have not yet experienced enough of life -- what one might call the Real World -- to understand how their "concerns" translate into "issues" and then into policies and political platforms. Without those initial experiences, an intelligent decision in the voting booth is impossible.
Consider a slightly different issue, that of eating. Everybody needs to eat. Little babies have a vague knowledge of this need which is why they cry. But they have no way of fulfilling the need without help.
Toddlers have both the knowledge and the ability, but not the discernment to make wise choices as to what to pack down the hatch. Dust bunnies, batteries, coins, mouse droppings: they're willing to put all of it into their mouth. Just because a toddler is able to eat, does not mean he should be allowed to do so unattended.
As kids grow older, their discernment improves. But even in something as fundamental as eating, where the consequences of decisions are well known and clearly visible, college kids are not exactly famous for wise decisions. Are frat houses replete with salad bars and kegs of milk? To ask the question is to answer it.
So why do we think that college students are any more prepared to make an intelligent choice of who their national leader should be?
When MTV tells kids not to "waste their vote", why don't they also remind them that an uninformed vote is worth no more than flipping a coin in the voting booth. In fact, for many of the MTV voters, it would make just as much sense simply to figure out how many of them there are, and flip the appropriate number of coins. It would save them a trip to the polls, and a fair amount of gasoline with all its accompanying pollution.
By this time, we can hear the screams and sputters of fury arising from our readers who are 18-25.
Are we really proposing that we should disqualify all college-age students from voting simply because they are a certain age? No. Quite the contrary.
The age limit on voting is illogical. It leads to the mistaken assumption that when someone turns 18, they are magically prepared to wisely vote in a way they weren't the day before. One's calendar age has absolutely nothing to do with one's wisdom, education, intelligence, civic sense, or knowledge of American history.
It is time that we move away from the idea of voting as a right. It is not. Breathing is a right. Free speech is a right. Voting, however, is not a right, any more than a drivers' license is a right.
It is a privilege - one which must be earned, and which can be lost, through the actions of your own personal self. This is demonstrated every day when we convict felons and strip them of the right to vote.
This is not to say that we should restrict the right to vote based on racist or evil motivations. Banning entire classes of people from the polls because of their skin color is obviously wrong.
Similarly, nobody would countenance an attempt to ban black people from getting drivers' licenses by use of the argument that "it's a privilege, not a right, and we don't want to extend it to you." But in like fashion, everybody understands the need to pass a driving test before getting your license.
Anybody may take the test; the subject matter is clearly spelled out and widely available; the test itself is not particularly challenging; and if you fail, you have every opportunity to keep trying, and trying, and trying, as many times as you like until you pass. But until you pass, no license. (Public schools used to understand and employ this very concept.)
What sort of a test would be appropriate for voting? Just like there are several parts to a driving test, there are several elements of good citizenship that relate directly to being reasonably likely to vote intelligently.
This should be a no-brainer, but these days you can't take anything for granted. I don't get to vote in Germany. You can't vote in Argentina. If we both went to Mexico, we couldn't vote there either. That's because we have not sworn allegiance to any of those countries or been born there as citizens.
So, since we have no loyalty or connection there, why should they care what we think about their politicians? The same principle applies right here at home. If you are not an American, you have no right to participate in the selection of American rulers.
The goal of home ownership has been part of the American dream for as long as their has been an America, if not before. This is for good reason. An individual who owns, or has control, of a piece of property is naturally going to be concerned with the good governance of their community.
Nobody wants to see their property value go down because of a crime wave. Renters may not be so worried about the property value, but they are certainly concerned about the quality of the local schools, roads, and emergency services.
A person who is just sleeping on someone's couch, though, hasn't nearly the same connection to the community - they can pick up and move at any moment. So, in order to vote, an individual should be required to demonstrate either ownership of a home in the community, or a legal renting of one. This demonstrates their commitment to the body politic.
The most frequent interaction most of us have with our Federal government is in paying our income taxes. Not only do we have to fill out those huge forms every April, but we get a big chunk taken out of each paycheck. Someone who doesn't, is not going to be nearly so concerned with what our government is doing. They aren't paying for it so why would they care?
It would make sense to require of a prospective voter that they demonstrate that they paid taxes. However, because of the way our tax structure and our society work, that presents other problems. Should housewives be excluded from voting? Hardly. But at the least, a person who is deducted on someone else's income tax as a dependent ought not be allowed to vote - they have no skin in the game. If, on the other hand, a person is sufficiently independent as to be filing their own taxes, then they have enough direct stake in the laws to be entitled to a vote.
Ah, yes, the Test. By establishing the first three requirements for a vote, a great many people who have no interest in the process, and thus nothing helpful to add to it, can be identified. But even then, there yet remains a certain sort of person who is a citizen; who owns property; who pays taxes; and yet, who cannot reasonably contribute anything helpful to the political process. (Read that: Paris Hilton and Britney Spears).
We are not suggesting that celebutantes and train wrecks be disenfranchised by virtue of their position; simply that a test on our nation's form of government, and perhaps on simple facts pertaining to the current candidates, be applied.
Poll tests have a long and inglorious history, having been used to wrongfully deny black people the vote under Jim Crow. But the problem was not the existence of the test; it was the unjust application of a ridiculously tough test only to a specific group of people, while other people were never required to take it.
There is nothing wrong with a test being required -- evenly and in a pre-announced and orderly way -- to all voters, across the board, of whatever color or gender. In fact, our government already does very much the same thing, with the citizenship test required of all who desire to be naturalized. If such a test is required of people who want to become American citizens, why is it inappropriate to ask the same of those who wish to vote?
Consider, for a moment, how our electorate would change - and thus, how political campaigns would change. It would no longer be easy for a candidate to ride to power on a wave of fuzzy platitudes and good feelings as a larger proportion of voters would be more keenly interested in their actual policy proposals. Similarly, the power of opinion-makers to mold what we "think" of various politicians would be reduced. How is this bad?
If these changes were made, you might wind up with more college students voting, but only the thoughtful and well-informed ones.
Next time you hear some twenty-something screaming about "getting out the vote", listen carefully to see if they also list specific issues they are concerned with. Jefferson and the founders did not want voters to wear blinders as they entered the voting booth. Neither should we.
If a citizen cannot correctly say the name of the current Vice President (no, not Darth Vader!), why are we asking them to vote for the next one?